Meetup Feedback: Topic selection and precommittments

This post is part of the Cambridge LW meetup group's attempt to publish what works for us, and try to make good meetups easier.

Breaking the ice and topic selection

A consistent problem has been starting discussion, and more generally breaking the ice. Last week, an Execute by Default style hack was used to reduce social inhibitions (everyone danced for 30 seconds), which was highly successful, though awkward. It was proposed again this week, and there was sufficient collective laughter at the recollection to effectively break the ice. This may also have been helped by a change in room, which replaced chairs with couches.

A new algorithm for selecting a topic was used: One person proposed a (deliberately easy-to-beat) topic, and running around the group, each person proposed a alternate topic or passed. This was followed by multiple passes for people to affiliate with any proposed topic. Amongst 7 people, the first pass produced a 5-2 split, and the group of two merged into the main topic.

The topic chosen was involuntary signalling. The others are here so as to keep them salient for future meetups.

Signalling by Dress

It was observed that most people seem to react to dress, and that as a group (largely mathematicians or similarly inclined) there is a tendency not to optimise the reactions we generate. Several people asked what might work better, and checked to see whether the social status of others in the social group of mathematicians correlated with their appearance or dress. It appeared that if it did, we are insufficiently good at observing our cognitive processes to notice. As a corollary, it wasn't clear that feedback from other members of the group was likely to contain much signal.

A concrete mechanism to extract information on how other people perceive dress was made: Generate multiple photos in various styles, and then use OKCupid's "MyBestFace" or similar services to get some information back

Signalling for Access

There was some discussion of how one might present in interview; this was confounded by a lack of access to interviewers. Discussion was more productive when moved to aspects of social engineering. Specific examples raised were accessing a hospital outside of visiting hours, entering a college without being challenged by porters, or avoiding inconvenience in airports. A combination of speed, posture (head level, back straight, shoulders back) and contextual dress was the extent of noted tricks.

Signalling by Posture

Considerable time was spent discussing how posture signals. Some people went around the group, saying what they would draw from other people's body language. Some postural changes were noted as very saliently causing a change in perception of the correctness of statements made at the same time (in particular, straightening the back and lifting the head). Extant scholarship was not discussed, but extensive experimentation occurred targeting specific received signals and querying specific postures. The dynamics of norm violation were also discussed, in the context of taking the communal coffee table as a footrest.

Specific suggestions to use a mirror or camera to analyse oneself or attempt to analyse other people in general were made.


All of the public commitments made last week were done, which seemed to be a cheap win. We reran the procedure:

  • Jonathan: Post meetup feedback etc. by midnight
  • Adam: Get last two years of past papers done by next Sunday
  • Adam: Email parents by Wednesday midnight
  • Ben: Finish list of definitions by next Sunday
  • Ben: Continue Diary until next Sunday


List of proposed and unused topics:

  • Concoct childish example of Bayes' Theorem (to motivate better alternatives)
  • Self-sabotage, noticing and avoiding.
  • Fermi estimate game
  • Examine week 1 of Ben's diary to try to help in debiasing.
  • Non-real valued utility functions
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Thanks for writing this up! I shall definitely try to come along to a meetup again soon.

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The below was originally posted by "Jacinto", an account I created in my secondary browser a few minutes ago, since I couldn't remember my login to thumbs up. Then I commented in the throwaway account by accident!

Great post. The meet sounds awesome and touched on many things I'm interested in. I'd love to be on the same continent to attend these more regularly than once a year.

One possible typo: "This was followed by multiple passes for people to affiliated with any proposed topic".